What is category-led growth?

Revolutionizing Market Strategy: An In-Depth Guide to Category-Led Growth

Every innovative brand looking to carve out a distinct space in a crowded market has to face the age-old conundrum - how to differentiate and stand out?

From the dawn of the business era, the standard advice has oscillated between two traditional growth strategies: product-led growth and sales-led growth.

But are these strategies sufficient to tackle the unique challenges of today's dynamic and increasingly saturated markets? At Boil Agency, we don't think so.

Thus, we've introduced an innovative approach that we like to call "Category-Led Growth".

What is Category-Led Growth?

Category-led growth is an avant-garde strategy that shifts focus from merely peddling products or bolstering sales figures.

Instead, it urges businesses, particularly challenger brands, to concentrate on establishing, defining, or redefining a category within their respective industry.

It's about creating and owning a distinct space within the market and, through this ownership, driving growth and solidifying market standing.

Category-Led Growth vs. Product and Sales-Led Growth

To fully grasp the uniqueness and potential of category-led growth, it's crucial to understand how it stands apart from the traditional strategies of product-led and sales-led growth.

Product-led vs sales-led growth

Product-Led Growth

A product-led growth strategy primarily revolves around creating a superior product or service that sells itself.

The approach relies heavily on the product's inherent value, usability, and unique features.

While this approach can undoubtedly yield results, it often places an immense burden on continual innovation and development.

This approach is for businesses with a lower contract value and self-serve solutions like freemium.

A product-led strategy aims to acquire, activate, and retain customers as efficiently as possible.

More of the traditional B2B customer journey happens without human interaction and at the user's pace.

Sales-Led Growth

Sales-led growth, on the other hand, puts the sales process in the driver's seat.

This strategy is typically built around a sales team that can effectively convey the value of a product or service, relying heavily on their ability to convince potential customers of their need for the product or service.

However, this approach often requires a significant investment in sales resources and may not be as effective in today's customer-empowered markets.

This approach is for businesses with a higher contract value and/or value-based pricing models.

Product-led vs sales-led growth

Category-Led Growth

Unlike the above two strategies, category-led growth doesn't solely focus on the product's features or a persuasive sales process.

Instead, it aims to foster a unique category within the market, setting the brand as a trailblazer and thereby driving growth.

It's about creating a distinct narrative that positions your brand as the go-to choice within the category and creates a larger share.

It creates more demand that you can then capture with product-led growth or sales-led growth.

Product-led vs sales-led growth

The Genesis of Category-Led Growth: A Problem-Oriented Approach

After years of working closely with challenger brands and witnessing their struggles and successes, we at Boil Agency felt a growing need for a more effective and efficient growth strategy.

We observed that while product and sales-led growth strategies had their merits, they often left brands in competitive gridlocks, struggling to maintain differentiation in the long run.

Moreover, both approaches seemed to be more inward-focused, centering around what the company does (creating a product or boosting sales) rather than what the customer truly needs or how the market is evolving.

This observation led us to devise a problem-oriented approach that shifts the focus outward – to the market and the customer.

This was the inception of the category-led growth strategy.

Why Should You Opt for Category-Led Growth?

The advantages of category-led growth strategy extend beyond mere differentiation.

By establishing and defining a new category, brands can shape their destiny, charting their own course rather than merely trying to outdo competitors.

They can create a narrative that defines why their category exists, who it serves, and how it creates value differently - making them not just another player in the market, but a leader in their own right.

Moreover, research indicates that category leaders often enjoy a disproportionately large market share.

In many cases, the leader in a particular category can command up to 76% of the market share.

Therefore, adopting a category-led growth strategy could potentially catapult a brand to the dominant position within its unique category.

Category leader share

Category-Led Growth: An Amplifier, Not a Replacement

Category-led growth, in essence, is about empowering your brand to define its own destiny, charting its own course in a vast market sea.

It's not about replacing the time-tested methods of product-led or sales-led growth; instead, it complements them, making them even more potent and efficient.

Here's how it works:

Category-led growth acts as a magnifying glass, helping to refine the focus of your product or sales-led growth strategy.

By establishing your unique category within the industry, you provide a guiding context within which your products and sales techniques can thrive.

Product-led Growth

In the context of product-led growth, once you have defined your category, your product features or innovations are no longer just about being 'better' than the competition - they become defining traits of your unique category.

This shift can help your products gain a stronger foothold in the market and resonate more deeply with your target audience.

Sales-led growth

In the context of sales-led growth, a well-defined category can provide a more solid framework for your sales narrative.

Your sales pitches are no longer just about convincing customers to buy your products over the competition.

Instead, they become compelling stories about why your brand – and the unique category it defines – is the perfect answer to the customer’s specific needs.

Long-term strategy

More importantly, category-led growth is a long-term strategy that focuses on carving out a unique and defensible market position.

This approach paves the way for sustainable growth, allowing you to continually evolve within your category while maintaining your distinct brand identity.

By integrating category-led growth into your strategic mix, you’re not just adding another growth strategy into the pile.

You’re embracing a holistic approach that enhances your product and sales strategies, fortifying your brand for the future.

Category-Led Growth: An Ideal Strategy for Challenger Brands

As we developed this strategy, we kept in mind a particular breed of businesses - challenger brands.

These are the brands that possess the courage to disrupt established norms, shake up the industry, and carve out their own path.

They're the Davids to the market Goliaths, brimming with innovation and the readiness to challenge the status quo.

Category-led growth strategy empowers these brave trailblazers to define their own rules rather than compete under the terms set by established brands.

It allows them to create a unique space within the market, claim it, and thrive within it.

In essence, it becomes a tool for challenger brands to disrupt their industry and achieve sustainable growth.

Harnessing Demand in Category-Led Growth

A key facet of category-led growth is its intricate relationship with demand—specifically, the cycle of creating, damning, and capturing it.

In fact, the entire category-led growth strategy revolves around this triad of demand dynamics.

"Creating the Demand"

Category-led growth begins with creating demand. As you establish your unique category, you're essentially forging a new space within the market.

This process inherently involves sparking curiosity and interest, thus creating a new source of demand.

In this stage, your primary aim is to inform the consumers about the problem and the unique solutions it provides, stirring an appetite for what your category uniquely offers.

"Damning the Demand"

In the "damning the demand" phase, your strategy is to intercept and redirect demand from existing solutions in the market toward your own category.

You're not trying to stop the demand, but instead, you are steering it away from conventional offerings and towards your unique value proposition.

This involves showcasing how your category's solution is different from—and superior to—what's currently available in the market.

"Capturing the Demand"

The final stage is about capturing the demand you've redirected. With a well-defined category, you’ve not only laid down the foundations for a demand but also reshaped it to suit your brand.

It is now time to fully leverage that demand, converting interest into sales. By drawing the customers to your category, you've effectively set a stage where your brand is the prime choice.

Your product and sales strategies then come into play, focusing on closing deals and fostering customer loyalty.

Remember, the cycle of creating, damning, and capturing demand is not a linear process but a circular one that repeats, enabling you to continuously adapt to evolving market dynamics while keeping your category in focus.


Some examples

Salesforce: A B2B Success Story in Category-Led Growth

When Salesforce entered the scene in 1999, they didn't just introduce a new product— they defined an entirely new category.

At the time, most companies were using on-premise software solutions for their CRM needs. Salesforce introduced the concept of delivering enterprise applications via a simple website.

They coined the term "cloud computing" and declared "The End of Software" as a part of their marketing campaign.

By promoting the concept of cloud-based CRM, Salesforce effectively created a new category in the software industry.

They created demand by educating the market about the benefits of their category model—cost-effectiveness, scalability, and accessibility.

Next, they damned the demand from on-premise software solutions. They highlighted the shortcomings of traditional software—high cost, complexity, and inflexibility—and pointed to a cloud-based solution as the superior choice.

Finally, they captured the demand they created and damned. They converted the interest in cloud-based CRM into sales for their product, which was the leading solution in the category they'd defined.

Today, Salesforce is a leader in the CRM market, all thanks to their successful execution of a category-led growth strategy.

This example shows how a category-led growth strategy can be used in a B2B context.

Challenger brands in the B2B space can learn from Salesforce's strategy—understanding that it's not only about introducing a new product or service, but also about defining a new category, creating and redirecting demand towards it, and then capturing that demand.

Netflix: A B2C Success Story in Category-Led Growth

When Netflix was first introduced, it was primarily a mail-order DVD rental service.

However, as technology advanced, Netflix saw an opportunity to create a new category within the entertainment industry: online streaming.

Instead of focusing purely on the product—i.e., DVDs or even movies and TV shows—Netflix defined and popularized the concept of "streaming".

They created demand by educating consumers about the problem they did not know they had and the possibility of accessing unlimited content online, anytime, without the need for physical DVDs or adherence to TV schedules.

Netflix then damned the demand for traditional TV and DVD rentals by highlighting their limitations, such as restricted schedules, commercials, and the delay in getting new releases.

Finally, they captured the demand they had created and damned by continuously adding to their library and offering personalized recommendations, making them the go-to choice for streaming.

In this way, Netflix didn't just sell a product (streaming service); it grew by creating, damning, and capturing demand for a whole new category of entertainment.

This growth allowed Netflix to evolve from a DVD rental service to a global streaming giant, even producing its own highly popular content now.

Thus, Netflix is an excellent example of category-led growth in a B2C context.

Is this not the same as category design?

Category design is about constructing the actual category. Category-led growth is about developing strategy and competitive advantage based on your role within the category.

Category design precedes category-led growth. You first need to create or redefine the category, then determine how to lead and win within it.

Category design may be done without pursuing category-led growth, but category-led growth always relies on an existing or new category structure.

Product-led vs sales-led growth

Embracing Category-Led Growth: Are You Ready to Lead?

In an era where differentiation is the key to survival and growth, category-led growth emerges as a potent strategy, especially for challenger brands ready to upset the established order.

By defining a new category or redefining an existing one, they can create a unique space in the market, thus driving growth and carving a solid reputation.

At Boil Agency, we've seen first-hand how impactful this approach can be. After years of partnering with challenger brands, we've identified category-led growth as a game-changer in the struggle to differentiate, innovate, and, ultimately, grow.

Category-led growth is not just a theory; it's an actionable strategy that's yielding tangible results for brands ready to challenge and change the world.

If that sounds like your brand, it's time to consider category-led growth as your strategy for the future.

Product-led vs sales-led growth

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